The future of work: blended model to dominate

The global pandemic has been the ultimate disruptor of how we work. Most organisations were unprepared for the overnight shift to homeworking, but have made it work and since then it has become part of the vernacular. Should organisations now be replacing their stop-gap measures with something more long-term, and preparing for hybrid models that mean IT teams will need to support office and home workers to work together? Along with the findings of our homeworking report, we talked to Tom Long, Head of Partnerships at Cisco Ireland for the insight of someone at the forefront of the technologies that will enable this new world.

The remote working revolution 

In our second homeworking survey conducted at the end of 2020, a significant 88% of respondents said they would like to work from home at least one day a week when restrictions are lifted. This is up from 62% in our first survey in April 2020. There are a number of factors at play here: working from home has become more normalised and people are finding a routine and setup that works for them. In addition, 86% of respondents say their productivity has improved or stayed the same, up from 73% in April. Technology is playing a critical role in boosting that productivity. Workers have become more familiar with collaboration and communication tools: 71% say they feel more positive about technology since working from home and over half said their organisation implemented new technical measures and policies to facilitate remote working.

Challenges remain: supporting productivity and wellness at home

In our first survey, 82% of respondents thought working from home could improve their work/life balance; however in the later survey, only 55% said they actually achieved a better work/life balance. For respondents, two of the biggest challenges were “managing my time and not overworking” (65%), and “managing my mental health generally” (36%). One contributing factor to home-working stress could be the continued reliance on temporary arrangements that were necessary when the emergency shift to home-working was mandated in 2020, but that aren’t suitable long-term.

“Companies quickly shifted to a new way of working, and that speed and mobilisation of resources was impressive,” said Tom Long, Head of Partnerships, Cisco Ireland. “But now that the sprint is passed, we’re into the marathon, and companies are looking at how to make home-working secure, high-quality and sustainable in the long term.”

Companies are now putting in fit-for-purpose solutions, such as dedicated video endpoints for higher video and audio quality. Other solutions include secure internet gateways that help keep a home worker safe by conducting real-time risk checks for any website they try to visit before allowing the connection. As employees increasingly go off the VPN to use resources like cloud apps, these safeguards play a vital role in ensuring security.

The re-imagining of the workplace

Across the private and public sector, and government, Ireland seems to be making way for long-term remote working. The government is expected to introduce legislation in September 2021 that will give employees the right to request remote working. Launching the strategy, Tánaiste Leo Varadkar said that 2020 has shown how viable the option can be.

The office is not a thing of the past however. While 63% of our survey respondents said they were working from home full-time, 28% were partly at home and partly at the office – even during the public health restrictions. This so-called hybrid approach is widely expected to become popular once public health restrictions are lifted. Hybrid working balances employee demand for flexibility and employer demand for in-person collaboration and networking.

Hybrid working is likely to mean most offices will need to change. We will likely see more hot-desking with apps for pre-booking a desk as needed. Meetings in conference rooms will require technology to support dial-in from remote colleagues. Remote participants will have to be adequately catered for – able to see and hear the room and be seen and heard by the room; otherwise there are knock-on effects that reach as far inequality and unfairness in opportunities for participation and progression – but that’s another blog in itself.

The full impact of the remote working revolution has yet to become clear. What we do know is that it will usher in new business models and technologies.

“The technologies that companies put in place to support home working are part of a wider recognition that the conversation has changed now from business continuity to business resilience,” Tom said. “There’s a real need for an enterprise-class, secure, high-quality experience for workers at home. Employees who are properly equipped to do their job will appreciate that they’re valued and well-supported, no matter where they happen to be working that day.”